SCOTTISH PROGRESS REPORT - APRIL 1838
Birmingham could be said to be the actual starting-point of the Chartist Movement in that the Birmingham Political Union (BPU) was instrumental in bringing together the three leading radical groups consisted the Birmingham Political Union with John Collins their leading agitator, the London Working Men's Association headed by William Lovett, and the political unions of the north under Fergus O'Connor. Together they solidified the working class into a mass movement for political reform, eventually becoming known for all times as the Chartist Movement.
In early 1838 a relentless tour of agitation by John Collins, met with immediate success. He was pivotal in garnering the support of thousands of previously apathetic Scotsmen, sharing his vision for a better life for the working man. The meetings which he held were thickly attended, and in response to his Scottish campaign the trade unions there took an active part in the agitation and worked hand in hand with the more high-minded section of the working classes.
The Scottish reformers expressed the desire to arrange for holding a great demonstration in Glasgow, and to invite the other leading reformers from London and Birmingham. The invitation was issued in the last week of April, 1838. It was accepted, and a great Glasgow Demonstration was fixed for May 21. The object of the demonstration was to cause the people of Scotland to adopt the BPU's National Petition and plan of action. It also provided an opportunity for the London Men’s Working Club and the Birmingham Political Union to hold face to face dialogue, and the LMWC had their first opportunity to present the People's Charter to the masses.
Francis Place (a political activist involved in the London Working Men's Association) expressed the greatest astonishment at the speed the movement grew when he said "The great excitement which had already become noticeable at the commencement of 1838, swept over the southern and eastern counties of England and over South Wales. Birmingham was the center of the Midlands; Manchester and Newcastle were the hotbeds of the northern counties; Edinburgh and Glasgow the foci of Scotland. The excitement spread rapidly in all directions."
(Francis Place, MSS. 27820, p. 7 - as footnoted in Max Beer History of Socialism p39).
April 1838 - Letters from Scotland
The following are the text of letters to the Birmingham Political Union from John Collins and to the Birmingham Journal from Hugh Craig, a Scottish magistrate, regarding Collins' successful political campaign tour of Scotland and the state of affairs there.
FROM JOHN COLLINS
To the Council of the Birmingham Political Union
I have just returned from tour through Ayrshire. There is no coldness here. The committee have, during my absence, well placarded the town (Glasgow) with good address. I perceive the effect of that address is great. The requisition will not be sent to you till we are sure there can be no failure; you must be prepared to come when sent for. We will meet on the 19th of May, if possible. We must have no delay more than necessary. If there be any doubt of success, you shall not be sent for. For the newspapers, you must not expect them to call the people forward. They are either under Whig or Tory control; only the pressure of the people will cause them to advocate our cause. Some of them are abusing me heartily; I shall rejoice if it does any good.
Edinburgh is being prepared; of Dundee there is no doubt; let not your zeal damped. There is misery enough, and intelligence enough, and zeal enough, in Scotland alone, to accomplish all you or any other patriot could desire. I will now give you an account of my labours during the week.
On Monday, after seeing several of the committee, whom I visited at their houses, I went to Paisley; I saw some of the district committee there; I then went Kilbarchan; had a glorious meeting in the church five o'clock. I travelled thence three miles to Johnston, where I had a crowded meeting at eight o'clock; returned to Paisley that night; thence to Glasgow on Tuesday morning where I arrived ten. At eleven I started for Ayr; had large meeting in the theatre there; went to Kilmarnock on Wednesday, where I found the largest assemblage I had yet seen, since had reached Scotland. I was met there by a deputation from Newmills, who requested me to attend a meeting at that town, which they engaged to call any time that would suit me. I got to Newmills at few minutes after ten on Thursday; and was met by a band of music, which escorted me to the place. We had a meeting at eleven, and a large one too. I left there to meet Bailie Craig, of Kilmarnock, at a town called Mauchline, (I need not remind you that bailie is the same as magistrate in England,) who had acted chairman of the Kilmarnock meeting, where he resides, and of which town he is bailie. Mr Craig had arrived Mauchline half hour before me, and had sent round the crier, and collected the inhabitants for me to address. After the meeting, the worthy magistrate drove me in his gig to Cumnock, where the people were pouring in from the neighbouring villages. We held a large meeting in the open air there, at four pm. I spoke to them there for an hour and half. Bailie Craig also spoke with great power and eloquence, as did several others. We had soiree in the evening, at which nearly 200 sat down to very pleasant, and to me, from previous exertions, very necessary, refreshment.
The speeches there, and not only there, but the speeches and resolutions at all the meetings I have attended during the week, convince me that the people of Scotland are not only not cold, but really more enthusiastic than the men of Birmingham themselves; no dissentient voice is heard; but firm determination expressed to go with us, knowing that we will not desert the cause we have espoused.
There is, indeed, more difficulty in keeping them from using too strong language, and from recommending to strong measures, than you can be aware of. Even while I am writing these lines, there is a person telling me that he has been through all the manufactories in the city, while I have been away, and that there is not a man in the whole but will follow the men of Birmingham, even to the death!
The trades are taking up the cause in their different societies. O'Connell and Fergus O'Connor never had such meetings as I have had. There is no doubt of our success.
FROM HUGH CRAIG
Sir, Kilmarnock, 21st April, 1898.
Having no doubt that you and your extensive circle of readers, feel deep interest in the proceedings and success of Mr. Collins during the progress of his mission in Scotland, I take the liberty of furnishing you with very concise report of what has taken place in this immediate neighbourhood, relative to that gentleman, and the bright prospects to the cause of the people, which are daily opening up in consequence of his movements.
You sir, cannot be ignorant of the apparent apathy of the people of Scotland on political subjects, for the last three or four years; nor can you be ignorant of the causes of that apparent apathy. Disappointment and disgust at Whig misrule, Whig treachery, and Whig extravagance, after Whigs had been elevated to power, and kept in power, the people - the grinding, and ruinous, and unmitigated operation the corn laws - the Bank of England monopoly - the continued mismanagement of Ireland, which compels thousands of starving labourers to cross the channel, and divide the benefits of our industry:- these and many other grievances which might easily be named, have tended to benumb, but have not destroyed, not even weakened, the political energies of hard-toiling and half-starved countrymen.
The recent excitement amongst the Reformers of Birmingham was not unnoticed by your brethren the north (whose penetrating intellects never slumber); and no sooner was Mr. Collins’ arrival in Glasgow known, than many towns in the neighbourhood simultaneously solicited visits from him.
He first appeared in this county, on Tuesday, the 17th inst„ and had a large public meeting in the theatre of the county town (Ayr), on the evening of that day. On Wednesday came to Kilmarnock, and addressed an immense meeting, the largest political meeting seen in this large town for a long period. His sentiments on the present deplorable condition of the working classes, were in strict, alas ! too strict, accordance with the experience of his audience; but the prospect of ameliorating that condition by their combined exertions, held out in the simple and effectual plan of reform proposed by the champion spirits of Birmingham, and illustrated by him, elevated the hope, reanimated the courage, and confirmed the patriotic resolves of everyone who heard him.
The announcement by Mr. Collins, of the probability of a deputation of distinguished Reformers being sent in a few weeks from Birmingham to Caledonia, produced an indescribable sensation of undisguised gladness - a convincing proof of willingness on the part of the Scottish people, cordially to co-operate with the English in the great work of national regeneration. Various resolutions were unanimously agreed to, and a numerous committee of genuine Reformers elected to carry them into effect. On Wednesday Mr. Collins went to Newmills, a town seven miles eastward of Kilmarnock, where he had large public meeting in the forenoon, and where all who attended were highly gratified with his address, and unanimously pledged themselves to co-operate in the good cause. I had arranged to meet with Mr. Collins at Mauchline, and accordingly met him there, and had a public meeting of all the people of the place in the open air. Mr. Collins was most attentively listened to, and resolutions such as those approved of in other places, were unanimously adopted, and a respectable committee appointed to carry them into practice.
Thence we drove to Cumnock, fine town about sixteen miles from Kilmarnock, a town pre-eminently distinguished for cherishing and defending, and propagating Radical principles. Here a splendid public meeting, previously called, took place in the open air, when Mr. Collins spoke at great length, evidently to the complete satisfaction of every one present. The most hearty responses were given to his call for co-operation , for courage, for perseverance, and for an unyielding determination to overcome all opposition, and remove all obstacles by legal and peaceful means.
After the meeting, a sumptuous banquet in honour of Mr. Collins was served up in the largest ball room in the town, which was crowded to excess. During the evening, various highly eloquent speeches were delivered by Mr. John M'Crae, the chairman, Mr. Collins, Mr. Alexander Brown, of Newmills, etc, and many beautiful Scotch songs were sung in tasteful style.
On leaving Cumnock, we were preceded and surrounded by flaming torches, a band of music, splendid flags, and thousands of the inhabitants, who, on reaching the outskirts of the town, stopped and allowed us to drive along the middle the street, amidst cheers to Mr. Collins and the Birmingham patriots.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
(Principal Magistrate of the town of Kilmarnock)